ABOARD THE USS UNDERWOOD (AP) -- The crew of the USS Underwood is waiting.
Somewhere amid the endless expanse of water that surrounds the U.S. Navy frigate, drug traffickers are speeding millions of dollars of contraband from Latin American shores to the U.S. The ship's mission is to stop at least some of that traffic, which from day to day means spending long hours searching the Western Hemisphere's coasts while preparing for action.
Endless duties and drills fill the day, as the crew trains for everything from a terrorist attack to a riot at port. At night, sailors sleep in tiny cubicles so cramped that many can't turn onto their sides.
In October, the 30-year-old vessel was patrolling the Caribbean waters off Panama, as part of a multinational effort to hit illicit trafficking routes on both coasts of the Central American isthmus.
Since it set sail with a crew of 260 in April 2012, it's visited ports in Panama, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the Netherland Antilles and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The Underwood is the oldest surface combatant ship in the U.S. Navy but no longer carries guided missiles. In fact, the recent deployment was the Underwood's last voyage, with 10 other U.S. Navy ships scheduled to be decommissioned early next year.